My son is writing a novel for a school assignment. I’m walking him through the process. Sometimes he gets stuck and doesn’t know what details to add and which to leave out. I remind him that he’s writing the first draft; it doesn’t have to be perfect, it needs only to be written.
I tell my writing friends the same thing; it’s the philosophy I live by.
I compare the first draft to a skeleton. The flesh and muscles along with the finer details (hair, eyes, freckles) are added later in future edits and revisions.
Often when I write, I add details, but if I’m stuck, I don’t spend time thinking them up if they don’t come on cue. I write on.
Here’s an example of what I might do if I’m stumped on a scene. The key in this passage is to get the character out of her home and on the way to work. Instead of spending unproductive time working out the details—or worse: being stalled in this one spot and not moving forward—I list what will happen and keep going with the story.
Discouraging thoughts abound. They lurk in the shadows, waiting for when our courage is at its weakest before pouncing. Once attacked, writers can fall victim to the dreaded ‘I’ll never write as well as – fill in the blank – so I should stop writing’ fever. There are only two things a writer can do under these circumstances . . . okay, three.
1) Knuckle down and fight off these dastardly thoughts.
2) Throw in the keyboard and choose another passion.
3) Accept the fact you won’t be the best and soldier on, revelling in the fact you are doing what you love.
I seldom, almost never, fall victim to this fever. That’s not to say I don’t wish I had written that award-winning novel or thought of that unique idea. I do, but they don’t discourage me from writing.
I can offer only one reason for this: I am number ten of eleven children. As a result, I’ve lived a life of second bests, hand-me-downs and never first in lines. I’ve grown accustom to never being number one. I’ve also developed an attitude that I’m going to play the game even though I don’t have a hope of being the best. Instead of focussing on the win, I enjoy the ride.
When applying these lessons of life to writing, I live by the philosophy that I’m not the best, not even close. This gives me the freedom to write without worrying about being as good as the best. Some may think I’m fearless, that I’ll try anything. Perhaps they’re right because when it comes to writing, I’m not afraid of failing or writing a novel that stinks. I assume I will.
Never being good enough also inspires me to keep learning, keep working to be better. I’m constantly reading ‘How to . . .’ books, writing magazines and surfing the web for writing advice. Lack of confidence in my spelling and using the correct word means there’s always a dictionary within arm’s reach. Punctuation is something I’m still working on and I’m learning different rules apply depending on location and influences.
The one thing I can say for sure is that I’m a better writer now than I was a year ago.
Oh! . . . Maybe that’s who every writer should compare themselves to – the writer they were a year ago. That type of competition can only encourage writers.